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Don’t Light Anything on Fire (and Other Tips for Nailing an Interview)

Newsflash: don’t light an interviewer’s desk on fire or ponder aloud your child’s paternity during an interview.

I bet that sentence got your attention, much like those actions got the (negative) attention of the candidates’ interviewers. I recently read an article that discusses some of the most outlandish mistakes interviewees have made, with the previous two examples being particularly memorable.

I’m going to assume most people know you shouldn’t light a fire when interviewing. But there are some other strategies for success that, although common, a job candidate can overlook.

Some basic tried-and-true interview tips include:

  • Show up approximately 15 minutes early.
  • Be prepared to discuss anything you included on your resume or cover letter.
  • Dress professionally in clothes you feel comfortable wearing.
  • Avoid distracting the interviewer: don’t wear clothes that make you fidget, don’t play with your hair or touch your beard, don’t wear jewelry that makes noise, and don’t smell of smoke or strong cologne.
  • Be confident but not arrogant. Don’t pretend you already know everything about the job. Be prepared with a few questions in case you are asked whether you have any.
  • Don’t ask questions the interviewer is not legally allowed to ask you (e.g., age or marital status). Don’t act condescending (e.g., “Hey, young fella!”) or use other offensive language.
  • Follow up with a thank-you note within 24 hours of the interview, in which you reiterate your interest in the position.

These suggestions are useful, but don’t let them overwhelm you. The multitude of tips floating around online can have a counterintuitive effect on candidates by making them fearful of screwing up. That hesitation and lack of confidence will be apparent to an interviewer.

Above all, job candidates should be genuine, approach interviews with enthusiasm, and look at an interview as an opportunity to determine if they and potential employers are a GOOD FIT for each other. Interviews aren’t necessarily about doing and saying everything perfectly but rather about finding a mutually beneficial match. Good luck!

Heidi owns and operates Career Path Writing Solutions, a communications consulting firm dedicated to helping individuals and businesses communicate when it matters most. She delights in helping job seekers navigate career change and guiding business owners to present their value proposition persuasively. Heidi earned her PhD in history from Duke University and teaches professional development for various university programs and organizations. She holds certifications in resume writing, interview preparation, and empowerment coaching, and sits on the Certification Committee of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

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